Montecito Planning Commission Hears San Ysidro Roundabout

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   April 30, 2020
A rendering of the San Ysidro Road Roundabout, which was heard by the Montecito Planning Commission last week

Last week, the Montecito Planning Commission heard from County Planning & Development and Public Works staff regarding the proposed roundabout at San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane. It was the first time the project was in front of the MPC, after receiving positive comments at two prior Montecito Board of Architectural Review (MBAR) meetings. The project has been in the works for the last several years as part of a trio of parallel projects to improve local traffic in conjunction with the impending widening of Highway 101.

The project includes replacing the current clunky intersection, which includes both an entrance and exit to Highway 101 at San Ysidro and a four-way stop at San Ysidro and North Jameson Lane. A single lane roundabout is slated instead, which will include pedestrian access on every leg of the intersection, including crosswalks that connect with paved walkways through the medians or refuge areas, breaking up the current expanse of asphalt into smaller sections for pedestrians to safely cross. The roundabout gives enough space for bicycles to traverse the lane, or bicyclists can get off their bikes and walk in the pedestrian areas.

The project will be heavily landscaped with drought tolerant landscaping and native trees – Monterey Cypress, Coast Live Oaks, and cherry trees – providing a buffer between the roundabout and the adjacent Hedgerow neighborhood. Signage and lighting will be minimal, with current cobra head lights being replaced with nine mission bell lights, bringing light nearly eight feet closer to the ground. Public Works director Chris Sneddon reiterated that the custom roundabout was designed to be compatible with the neighborhood as well as the rural character of Montecito. The center of the roundabout is mounded, so that headlights cannot be seen from neighboring homes. The oblong shape of the roundabout is designed to bring down traffic speeds, to 15-20MPH.

Comments from MBAR, as well as from the Design Working Group, COAST, and the Bicycle Coalition, were taken into consideration prior to the MPC presentation, and some changes to the plans were made. The sidewalks through the roundabout were expanded from six feet to eight feet, and curb cuts were made for bikes, in order to accommodate both pedestrians utilizing the sidewalk and bicyclists who may want to exit the main lane and walk their bikes on the sidewalk. The landscaping design was also modified, moving away from succulent plantings to more dense and leafy drought tolerant ground coverings, which are common throughout Montecito. Tree plantings have been densified near the neighbors on both the northwest and northeast side of the roundabout, making clear the transition from freeway to neighborhood.

The Commission spent nearly six hours discussing seven key issues related to the project, including traffic circulation and level of service; safety for bicyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles; landscaping; lighting; signage; CEQA compliance; and construction impact. The intersection was first identified as problematic when the Montecito Community Plan was written in 1992; it currently operates at a level “F” multiple times per day. PW director Sneddon said that he is confident the data used for level of service is accurate. “The issue has existed for the last thirty years, every time it’s been studied. With [the] Cabrillo [NB freeway entrance], without [the] Cabrillo [NB freeway entrance], with the Miramar, without the Miramar. At every stage of the way that there has been a check-in, it’s been consistent that it’s bad and getting worse,” he said. “All the projections for the future are that there are not going to be less people.” The project is tied into the Highway 101 widening in both funding and timing, and is expected to be built between 2023 and 2027. The other side of the intersection, closer to the Rosewood Miramar Resort, will be turned into a four-way stop. Two other parallel projects include a roundabout at Olive Mill and Coast Village Road and mitigation of the railroad bridge at the Cabrillo Blvd underpass, which will also include a roundabout.

The Commission heard from a handful of public speakers, including Montecito Association executive director Sharon Byrne, who suggested that the County hold a public forum once the roundabout is constructed, to teach residents how to use it. The MA’s Land Use Chair Dorinne Lee Johnson told the Commission that the Montecito Association supports the project, following changes that were made due to prior concerns.

The Commission voted unanimously to continue the hearing until Wednesday, May 20, in hopes that by that time, members of the public who might have been deterred by the virtual meeting, would be able to speak in person if there are lingering concerns about the project and its design.

To view the full staff report and presentation, visit


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